Monday musings on Australian literature: the AWGIES (for film)

Last week I finally saw the (excellent) film adaptation of Patrick White‘s The eye of the storm (which I may – or may not – separately blog about). I was intrigued to notice that the scriptwriter was one-time actor, Judy Morris, and this reminded me of the AWGIE awards.

The AWGIES are annual awards organised by the Australian Writers’ Guild. They recognise excellence in screen, television, stage and radio writing. I want to post about them because so often the scriptwriter is forgotten when films are spoken of – we talk most of the directors and the stars, and sometimes of the producers and cinematographers, but far less frequently of the scriptwriter. And yet filmmaking is truly a team activity and the script is a critical component. Scriptwriters are recognised, I know, in other awards – the Oscars, BAFTA, AFI etc – but the AWGIES are devoted to them.

The AWGIES have multiple categories, grouped under Film, Television, Stage, to name some – and they now have one for Interactive Media too. For Feature Film there are two main categories, though they aren’t always both awarded: Original and Adaptation. The awards have been going since 1967 – too long for me to list all the winners – so, yes, as usual, I will pick out some that particularly interest me!

Currency Press

In the 2011 awards, Currency Press won the Dorothy Crawford Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Profession. Established in 1971, Currency Press is a specialist performing arts publisher and, apparently, Australia’s oldest still active independent publisher. They are the first place you look (in Australia) if you want a published screenplay, but they also publish more widely in the performing arts arena. And they are, of course, a member of SPUNC, about which I wrote some months ago. Go small publishers!

Christos Tsiolkas

Like many writers, Tsiolkas (of The slap fame) doesn’t only write novels, though they are his main claim to fame. He has, in fact, won two AWGIES. The first was in 1999, for being co-writer of a stage play, Who’s afraid of the middle class? His second was in 2009, again as a co-writer, for the multi-story feature film, Blessed. It’s not hard to see Tsiolkas’ hand in this film which confronts us with the challenges of mothering from multiple angles. It’s gritty, but sympathetic rather than judgemental.

Luke Davies

Davies is another contemporary Australian novelist who tends to confront the seamier side of life. He’s also an award-winning poet and a screenwriter, and he won an AWGIE in 2006 for his feature film adaptation of his own (somewhat autobiographical) novel, Candy. Candy was one of Heath Ledger‘s last films and explores the world of a couple caught up in heroin addiction. I have seen the film, but have yet to read any of Davies’ work, something I must do.

David Williamson

It would be impossible to write about the AWGIEs without mentioning the prolific David Williamson. Primarily a playwright, he has also adapted many of his plays for film, and has won multiple AWGIEs for both his plays and his screen adaptations. His film AWGIEs include adaptations of his own plays, The removalists (1972), Travelling north (1988) and Emerald City (1989). He also won an AWGIE for an original screenplay, for the (now classic Australian) film Gallipoli (1981) on which he collaborated with the director Peter Weir. Williamson’s work tends to be satirical, and he has targeted most things that make up contemporary Australia, including football, party politics, the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry, university ethics and the police force.

Helen Garner

And now, just because I can, I’m going to include Helen Garner, who not only writes novels, short stories, literary non-fiction, and essays/articles, but also screenplays. She hasn’t won an AWGIE but she’s sure to have been considered because the films based on her scripts have all been well-reviewed (and won or been nominated for other awards). She adapted her own novel, Monkey Grip, for film, and she has written two original screenplays, Two Friends and The Last Days of Chez Nous (for which she was nominated for an AFI award). Two Friends is particularly interesting. It’s a teleplay directed by Jane Campion, and was shown in the Un certain regard section at Cannes in 1986. I like its narrative structure, which starts in the present, when the two friends had drifted apart, and moves backwards to the beginning of their friendship. If you know Campion and Garner, you have an idea of what a perceptive little treasure this feature film is.

At the bottom (currently anyhow) of the Australian Writers’ Guild website is a quote from Tom Stoppard. I like it and think you might too:

Words are sacred… If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little. (Tom Stoppard)

How often do you think of the scriptwriters of the movies you like – or don’t like?

20 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: the AWGIES (for film)

  1. I always think of the scriptwriter! For me it’s absolutely central. One of my secret dreams is to adapt one of my stories into a short film (probably every writer’s dream). I have a soft spot for dialogue and location! Great informative post and yes I am curious to see Judy Morris’ work – I thought she was a very subtle actress.

    • Spoken like a writer, Catherine! And thanks for your perspective. I often wonder how often writers do think about film adaptation. Short stories, in particular, seem to me to be great sources for film. I was astonished once to discover how many Somerset Maugham stories have been adapted to film. And, one of my favourite Aussie films of recent years, Jindabyne, was loosely adapted from a Raymond Carver story.

      • I would really love to see Jindabyne, you’ve just reminded me. Didn’t realise it was taken from a Carver story. Which one was that? And can’t wait to see The Eye of the Storm. I was such a PW geek earlier.

        • It’s “So much water so close to home”. Re-located of course, and quite a bit of change as I recollect, but the essential conflict re moral choices is there.

          LOL re PW geek … I was too but there’s still quite a lot I still have to read.

  2. Thanks Gummie: I noted some of the names. Loved Angel on my Table & Sweetie (an incredible film IMO) but disliked In the Cut and found Bright Star boring.

    Yes I do follow scriptwriters more than I used to. Andrew Davies is a definite sell for literary adaptations.

    • Oh yes, Guy, I loved Angle at my table (have you read Janet Frame?) and Sweetie. Didn’t see In the cut. I did like Bright Star (as you probably know as I think I reviewed it here).

      Have you seen Andrew Davies’ South Riding? I read that years ago and am looking forward to seeing the adaptation.

  3. I relate to Catherine’s comment above and wonder how many writers day-dream of their acceptance speech!
    When I’m watching an Australian film, I always think about the script-writer/s (the Hollywood system is a totally different ‘kettle of fish’ with whole conglomerates of both credited and uncredited writers).
    Luke Davies’ ‘Candy’ script resulted in a dark movie that was well-worth seeing (although not uplifting, to say the least).

    • Oh thanks Karen (or do you prefer Karen Lee). It’s great hearing the perspectives of writers, like you and Catherine. Re Luke Davies … it was certainly a dark movie. As a viewer, I tend to feel good if the creator did the adaptation though I recognise that not everyone can make the change from one form of writing to another.

      • I am trying to ease myself back into Karenlee. I used to write under that name and, after having a few problems with my author name being taken as Karen LEE THOMPSON instead of Karen lee THOMPSON (with associated filing difficulties), I’m going to go back to Karenlee for everything.
        I am really looking forward to seeing the ‘Eye of the Storm’ adaptation. I have heard only good things about it. I’d be interested to read your thoughts on it.

        • Ok, Karenlee it is … as a librarian I understand the filing issue! I’d love to write on The eye of the storm … and may, but would rather see it again before I did. It’s such an interesting film.

    • Oh good for you, Tony. What are you doing on Huffington? I don’t check it regularly – really just come across it every now and then in Google searches. If only I had more time to read more!

  4. I rarely think of the scriptwriters unless the movie is adapted from a novel or is an original creation of a writer who is not generally a scriptwriter (Neil Gaiman or Stephen King for example). I am not a very good movie goer though as I have a hard time remebering actor’s names most of the time. Drive my movie-buff sister nuts. The Tom Stoppard quote is most excellent.

    • Yes, I rather gathered – from absence of mentions on your wide-ranging blog – that movies aren’t upper in your mind. It’s understandable that a reader would be interested in who adapted novels they like! So you’ve made a start in recognising the poor scriptwriter!

  5. Just saved The Eye of the Storm to my dvd rental queue. It should be available here through the mail in a few weeks. I admire P. White but have not read this one and had not heard about the film.

    • No, unfortunately it may not get wide release — it’s only showing in one cinema here (I think) but has had a run of well over a month now which is good. It’s made by Fred Schepisi, an Australian director who has moved between Australia and Hollywood during his career. I look forward to hearing what you think.

  6. We’re really enjoying The Slap TV series. Its a bit like watching a car-crash, but its very dramatic. I like the narrator, a rather dead-pan and detached voice, which works really well. My opinion of Tsiolkas is rising – perhaps he should stick to screenplays

    • Gald you’re enjoying it Tom. It is well done isn’t it. Can’t recollect whether you read my Vale Sarah Watt post, but it is her husband, William McInnes, who is doing the voice over in The slap. He has a very distinctive, rather laconic Australian voice, doesn’t he. I read one critic who didn’t like the voice-over but I think it works well.

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